Revolution Bars Group is looking to expand its portfolio of brands from two to four, in order to capitalise on property opportunities post-pandemic, chief executive Rob Pitcher has told MCA.

The business, which published its interim trading update for 26 weeks to 26 December 2020 yesterday (13 April), said it was looking to trial two new concepts – developed during lockdown – over the summer, with a view to expanding them if successful.

The first two sites will open in converted existing venues within the group. “However we see this as providing the group with four brands. It will help us consider properties that probably weren’t suitable for either a Revolution or Revolución de Cuba and therefore be able to increase our expansion opportunities as we come out of lockdown,” he said.

Pitcher said the first concept will be a multi-function venue, inspired by food halls, that will have a community hub feel to it, and will support fledgling businesses started during the three lockdowns by young entrepreneurs – largely street food operators but also businesses like barber shops.

“We want to use our knowledge and experience to help them start their businesses off and bring them out of their living rooms and into a commercial space,” explained Pitcher.

The second concept has taken inspiration from the established competitive socialising trend, with the rise of the staycation and people’s desire for a simpler life, he said. “We have combined seaside fairs and fairground rides and games and will put them into a bar environment, bringing a bit of the staycation to the highstreet,” he added.

Pitcher said that with all the empty retail units on the high street, “we see leisure as the key to filling that void”. He said there was now more opportunity for the group to open in locations that it hasn’t previously had a presence. “We only have 19 Revolución de Cuba’s in the UK – we think there could be at least 50 of those so we have got a long way to go,” he said.

The reduction in competition in the casual dining sector will also present an opportunity for the group’s daytime offer, particularly in terms of its food, while volume has also come out of the nightclub part of the late-night sector, he noted. “What we have not seen yet is the middle ground in the bars market – which we don’t think we will see until the moratorium ends, in whatever fashion the government decides to pursue.

On the subject of rent debt, Pitcher said that in his view the government’s call for evidence “comes about 12 months too late”. “We have had to take matters into our own hands with the CVA in the Revolution business – we have done all the work we can possibly do on rent at a significant cost to the business because the government wasn’t able to work out a solution early enough,” he said.

The group reopened 19 of its sites on Monday (12 April) with sales up around 100% compared to the same day in 2019, said Pitcher. “The guests were over the moon and so happy to be able to come out again,” he said.

Forward bookings, post 17 May, are also looking strong with just short of 12,000 taken in the week following Boris Johnson’s announcement confirming the lifting of restrictions and another 11,500 pending bookings are in the system.

Pitcher said the demand was there and it had used the downtime during lockdown to refine its proposition. “We feel our core brands will come back even more strongly,” he said. “Pre-pandemic we were performing really well and were in sales and profit growth, and we think that without restrictions in place we can get back to that very quickly,” he explained.

Bookings for its events and masterclasses have also been very strong, with cocktail masterclasses in Brighton, Liverpool and Newcastle all sold out for the summer already, and one of its summer events for 2,400 people selling out in just nine minutes.

On the corporate side bookings are just short of 20% up on comparable 2019 levels, which he said was a good read across to potential festive reading. “We are seeing Christmas start to build,” he added.